I always felt that children exhausted me terribly. They are always filled with so much excitement and I think that possibly their lively energy can transfer onto me. However, that doesn’t prove true. The experience reminded me of my time volunteering at Language Stars, the language camp last summer. Helping young children learn or behave is always tiring.
That morning, our AFS group was split. Zach, Nancy, Matt, and a few others from Harbin No. 73 and No. 14 Senior High School went to the Dragon Tower, the tallest steel tower in Asia. I was kept behind because I was going to join another group. Our second group went to the kindergarten near the Dragon Tower. I paired up with Thomas and we were taken to see our teacher who taught Second-year Kindergarteners. In China, children attend kindergarten for three years before they attend elementary school.
My teacher had not told us to prepare any material therefore I only arrived with my camera and a smile. Thomas had also not prepared. I borrowed some coloring sheets from some other No. 73 students. When Thomas and I entered the classroom, we were asked if we had prepared anything. We both shook our heads. We introduced ourselves and took the children to the bathroom for potty break. Guys and girls pee together, but they are separated by a wall. That was probably the most shocking part of my day.
Soon, we went to Activities room where students had kits and completed puzzles. I worked with my little friend Dudu. We were learning what is left and what is right. Thomas sat across from me and was helping a girl plot points on a foam piece. Dudu completed his homework quickly so Dudu and me chatted. He talked about games, his family, and even cameras. Before we left the room, Dudu invited me to come to his house! He’s a real sweet boy.
We were called to come downstairs to eat lunch. I was shocked to see Zach and the other students who had gone to the Dragon Tower that morning. Apparently, they came by to have lunch with us and join us in the afternoon. Lunch was delicious but the portions were too tiny. It was mushrooms with rice.
Lately, I have been eating in smaller portions and working out more. One time I looked in the mirror and realized that eating Harbin’s famous savory meats had inflated my face. I have to mentally tell myself every meal to chew more and swallow less, mentally lowering and slowing down my intake. I eat too fast. I have already tried this for two weeks and it has helped me so much. I realized I don’t need so much food to make me full and I can control my intake. Most of the time, I eat more greens than meat. One thing that irritates me is that someone likes to make stereotypes off of me.
For example, before I picked up my chopsticks for dinner, my host mom said, “Merry, eat more vegetables, ok?” It was as if she never watched me eat more vegetables than meat. At breakfast on weekdays, my host mom will remark, “Merry wears a lot of clothes. You know, foreigners wear a lot of clothes more than Chinese people.” I faked a laugh. Only if she knew that when I use to play on a soccer team, other kids and parents would wear shorts in 30 F. I don’t like it when people feel confident about themselves when they have drawn a massive conclusion from one situation. It reminds me of one time I sat down to dinner with my host parent’s friends who were very important people at my host parent’s workplace. The most important person at the table, the head of the Agriculture Department of Harbin province, had said something along the lines of, “When foreigners come to China, they think they know everything about China’s culture after one month. After two months, they realize they don’t. After 6 months, they realize they have much to learn.” I think the same thing could apply to those who think they can draw a conclusion in a short amount of time.
After lunch, we were going to give a presentation to the kindergarten teachers and tell them about our country’s kindergartens. Ben, an American who attends No. 14 High School, was my partner in conducting research. We were supposed to look up kindergartens in America, but Ben and I reflected on our experiences in preschool and kindergarten. During our reflection, I realized that this was the time of our life when we were forced to abide by society’s rules, stuffing our heads with morals and values, like integrity and respect. It was our first practice at communication—reading, writing, speaking, and listening. If we had misbehaved, we experienced our first discipline. It was the beginning of a long arduous journey—remembering the steps of the leaders before us, building common sense, and all the life skills we would need—that was going to last into our twenties.
I found reflecting on my younger years meaningful and interesting. I found similarities and differences when comparing it to Ben’s life in Seattle. When we finished research, we went downstairs. Zach and Nancy were going to present our research.
Afterwards, we returned to our classrooms. Thomas and I sat around talking for 40-50 minutes because the children were still napping. I hadn’t spoken to Thomas for that long since a really long. It felt good to catch up and know that a person from the past is still your friend. We talked nonstop about everything and laughed at each other’s silly lives, just the two of us. I used to feel like there was a 4-inch thick glass wall between us. The wall was so thick that I could only tell he was on the other side but we couldn’t talk. Today, that wall smashed by another’s hand when we worked together with our teacher. That other hand is what I would call Fate.
I am absolutely exhausted, but in a good way. I had less of a distance with the other AFS students and understood them better. We finished volunteering at 3 p.m. Ben had invited all of us to go to Hamamas, a dining place. After we had gotten a taxi, I realized that we were running short of time. I wanted to make sure to get back to school before 6 pm. I told Raffaele, the Italian from No. 14 that we will come next time.
Zach, Nancy, Matt, and I were hungry so we went to The Hole, a restaurant off of Central Street. We ate a plate of Fried Eggs and Tomato and a plate of Di San Xian (地三鲜). That's eggplants, peppers, and potatoes. I was absolutely stuffed. When I had dinner with my family, I ate half of what I usually ate.
Maybe the children did exhaust me, but maybe I am exhausted from my journey back to the past.